Higher-order thinking, known as higher order thinking skills (HOTS), is a concept of education reform based on learning taxonomies (such as Bloom's Taxonomy). The idea is that some types of learning require more cognitive processing than others, but also have more generalized benefits. In Bloom's taxonomy, for example, skills involving analysis, evaluation and synthesis (creation of new knowledge) are thought to be of a higher order, requiring different learning and teaching methods, than the learning of facts and concepts. Higher order thinking involves the learning of complex judgemental skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. Higher order thinking is more difficult to learn or teach but also more valuable because such skills are more likely to be usable in novel situations (i.e., situations other than those in which the skill was learned).
It is a notion that students must master the lower level skills before they can engage in higher order thinking. However, the National Research Council objected to this line of reasoning, saying that cognitive research challenges that assumption, and that higher order thinking is important even in elementary school.
Advocates of traditional education object to elevating HOTS above direct instruction of basic skills. Many forms of education reform, such as inquiry-based science, reform mathematics and whole language emphasize HOTS to solve problems and learn, sometimes deliberately omitting direct instruction of traditional methods, facts, or knowledge. HOTS assumes standards based assessments that use open-response items instead of multiple choice questions, and hence require higher order analysis and writing. Critics of standards based assessments point out that this style of testing is even more difficult for students who are behind academically. Indeed, while minorities may lag by 10 to 25 points on standardized percentile rankings, the failure rates of minorities are two to four times the best scoring groups on tests like the WASL. It is debated whether it is correct to raise the importance of teaching process over content.
The Texas Republican Party expressed their opposition to the teaching of certain HOTS by including the following item in their 2012 Party Platform:
"Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."
However, the final wording of this item was evidently a 'mistake' according to Republican Party of Texas Communications Director Chris Elam who said, in an interview with talkingpointsmemo.com, that the plank should not have included the phrase 'critical thinking skills' and it was not the intent of the subcommittee to indicate that the RPT was opposed to critical thinking skills". When asked to clarify the meaning of the item he said, "I think the intent is that the Republican Party is opposed to the values clarification method that serves the purpose of challenging students beliefs and undermine [sic] parental authority".
Similarly, textbooks such as Dale Seymour's Investigations omit many standard arithmetic methods, instead relying on students to construct their own ways to compute averages, and perform multiplication and division. Teachers are directed to discourage students who may have been taught how to regroup or take a sum and divide by the number of items to compute an average.
-  National Research Council. (1987). Education and learning to think (p. 8). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
-  Texas Republican Party (RPT) Platform of 2012
- Texas GOP’s 2012 Platform Opposes Teaching Of ‘Critical Thinking Skills’